Once a quaint health resort, Westerplatte is today most commonly known as the ground on which the first shots of WW2 were fired.
Notes from a journal, October 2017.
When I first stood on the shores of Westerplatte, on that grey and rainy October day, I felt utterly lost and confused. I can remember that I pulled my scarf tighter around my neck, and that I was almost holding my breath – was that an act of anticipation, perhaps? Or an act of fear, of never being able to fully grasp and understand? Or perhaps both.
I have started to realise that there is nothing that can properly prepare you for sites like this, for sites like Westerplatte. It’s a site so pregnant with the memory of sealed faiths, deaths and sorrow that it almost makes me nauseous. You see, Westerplatte is – like many other historical sites of a similar nature – hard to grasp because it combines the extraordinary with the ordinary. It offers the brutal mark of history etched into ordinary and dull everyday life.
To me, that is something that makes it hard to fully grasp.
Westerplatte – The Start of WW2
On September 1st 1939, the quaint harbour of Westerplatte is where the first shots of WW2 were fired. Right there, right where I stood and felt the rain brush against my skin, is where Hitler had ordered his first battle to begin. In this Polish canal, in this beautiful scenery. In a place just like any other.
A few months prior to the war, the German war ship Schleswig-Holstein arrived in Gdansk. Due to the rather tense political situation, the local Polish officer in charge was hesitant about letting the Germans into the canal. The German ship claimed they were in Gdansk to put flowers on German graves from WW1, a seemingly noble gesture that was hard for the Poles to deny.
Schleswig-Holstein attacked on September 1st, and the Polish government ordered their soldiers to fight for 36 hours, then surrender. The Polish soldiers in Westerplatte refused to give up, and they fought back the Nazis for a total of 7 days. 15 Poles lost their lives, the rest were shipped off to work camps.
On September 3rd, France and Britain joined the war. A week later, Russia invaded Poland from the opposite side. The war was now a fact.
And it all started in a place like this. On an autumn day, in a green landscape, in a Polish canal. Is it not absurd how such a big historical event takes place in such a ordinary place? It could have been anywhere, really, but it happened right here.
And even to this day, this quaint and ordinary place carries the conscience of all those millions of lives that were lost during the war.
Westerplatte – From health resort to a military depot
Westerplatte is a small peninsula located on the Baltic Sea, in the Gdansk harbour channel.
In 1924, Poland started utilizing the small area of Westerplatte as a location for transfering military equipment, such as for example ammuntition, from international connections. Over the next decades, the depot grew into a defensive port of great size. In fact, it gained such an important position that this is where Hitler decided to start the invasion of Poland.
You can find more information on the Battle of Westerplatte, also notoriously known as the Polish Verdun, here.
What is Westerplatte today?
In these days, Westerplatte is first and foremost a memorial site. While the battle of Westerplatte is of little importance considering WW2 as a whole, it is still the ground on which the first shots of WW2 were fired and where the first battle of WW2 were fought. On the site, you can find a small museum which is only open during the summer months and a permanent outdoor exhibition.
Today, Westerplatte is an important place for many Poles as they still feel pride over their countrymen’s past bravery.
Few tourists know about this place, and even fewer visit it.
How to get from Gdansk to Westerplatte?
Westerplatte is easily reachable from the city centre of Gdansk. You can get to Westerplatte by catching the 106 bus, departing from outside of the Gdansk train station. In summer, you can take Water Tram NO 5 all the way to the memorial site.
There is a car park near Westerplatte, for those of you arriving by car.
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